Public Use of Gifts
In 1 Corinthians, Paul is addressing a problem that had arisen in Corinth concerning public worship and the use of gifts. In earlier chapters, Paul had been discussing how Christians should live out their freedom, which is qualified and regulated by love. A self-indulgent spirit that debauched the principle of freedom in other areas had found a similar expression in the use of gifts for public worship. Such selfishness produced disunity and chaos in public worship.
Gifts are given for the common good (chapter 12) and must be in agreement with the principle of love (chapter 13). There was no problem with any of the service gifts being used excessively. The primary concern was the gift of prophecy and the gift of tongues as per their use in public worship. Paul offered these guidelines. First, whatever is communicated in public worship must be intelligible. It must be spoken in the common language or at least be interpreted in the common language. Prophecy is more desirable than tongues (unless someone has the gift of interpretation), because prophecy is spoken in a language that can be understood.
Second, “Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church” (vs. 12). These gifts would certainly include serving, mercy, giving, administration, exhortation, and teaching as well as prophecy. It seems to be part of our fallen nature to desire gifts that appear more supernatural and more noticeable by others. However, the exercise of any gift is supernatural and its proper use is always noticed by God.
Third, tongues are a sign for unbelievers, and the gift of prophecy is for believers since it communicates truth to those who would receive it (vs. 22). Some would argue for the private use of tongues for their own edification based on Paul’s statement in verses 18 and 19. Even the private use of tongues without an interpretation is unintelligible. Therefore the personal benefit is subjective, i.e. a sense of God’s presence, or an emotional moment that enhances a love relationship. A prophetic message can always be understood and “the secrets of their hearts will be laid bare” leading to repentance (vs. 25).
Fourth, “God is not a God of disorder, but of peace” (vs. 33). If God is empowering the gift then “everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way” (vs. 40).
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